Fan-Fiction based on TV Show Combat! Copyright Selmur Production, Inc., ABC, Image Productions etc. Disclaimer: Combat! and its characters do not belong to me, this WWII story is a piece of fan-fiction and I am not being compensated in any tangible way for this story.
Think of this story as a river system, braided in sections, meandering in others. There are tributaries and side channels, point bars, oxbows, diversions, and dams. Its course is not always direct as it wanders through the landscape. Not every part of the system drains the same country rock and the waters do not always have the same composition. Eventually like a river system, all the little channels and diversions, resolve and discharge in the same place. I did not put in at the source, but somewhere along the course. Occasionally, I left the main channel and went back upstream to explore a different part of the system. Besides the waters within a river system, there are the sediments and organic bits that get transported. The muck in the back waters that smells of decay. The cleaner bits of mineral and rock. Some wear well, surviving cycle after cycle of deposition and erosion, others quickly break down to yield other products. Each particle from clay-sized to boulder, a single mineral or a bit of rock, tell their own story of provenance and history. If it helps, think of the characters as the particles the water carries.
For those who like to go in a straight line towards a destination, this may not be a story for you. There's a fair amount of backtracking, and dwelling in characters' minds. Linear is not my forte. But this is how the story came to me and evolved.
Chapter 1 Prologue
A mismatched trio of soldiers crested a final ridge and came down a slope into an open valley. The threesome headed towards a small cluster of large tents marked with red crosses. Two walked under their own power supporting the third. He sagged between them, head down, feet dragging, probably unconscious, from the look of it. It had not been easy. When they first started out, the soldier had been able to stumble along with help, though each step that put weight on an injured leg caused him to blanch with pain. Finally, he passed out. For much of the trek, he remained that way. Probably easier to get him back like that. He was no featherweight. His two young supporters, buck privates, were dragging; they were ready to hand off this soldier to somebody else.
Along with the aid station, a few platoons were bivouacked here, strung out further down the valley. These platoons were in reserve, about three miles back from the active front, close enough to get into action quickly, but far enough back to be relatively safe. Soldiers were busy tending to housekeeping chores, washing and mending clothes, cleaning gear and guns, and sleeping. Mostly sleeping. Nobody noticed the little group coming in.
The trio halted in front of the aid station. The privates, recently come up from the Repple-Depple, had never done something like this before. They best be minding their "P's and Q's" as their mothers would say. "Doc," called one of the soldiers, hoping to catch the attention of a medic. They wanted to get the unconscious man some help and get back to their squad. They felt a bit conspicuous too, considering that their charge was wearing, at least partially, a German uniform.
"Doc!" the soldier called a little louder. To his buddy, he rasped, stopping every few words for another lungful of air, "Dang, he's slipping. Keep losing my grip. Fixin' to drop him."
The shorter of the two muttered back, "Don't you dare!" Adjusting his grip, "Dern, fella, you're sagging there, again."
Both soldiers wheezed with the effort of catching breath. That last little jaunt across the open field to the tent about took the stuffing out of them. Of course, the cross- country three miles before that hadn't been a picnic either.
A tired-looking medic stepped to the entry and motioned them in. Just when things were finally quiet. It's been a rough week, the medic thought to himself.
A week ago or so, during a rainstorm, German artillery opened up. Perhaps the Krauts hoped the bad weather would give their guns some cover. Unlike the Allies who could throw profligate numbers of shells downrange, the Krauts had limited resources and husbanded what they had to get maximum effect. Although the shelling probably lasted less than thirty minutes, it did plenty of damage. Whoever laid the guns knew what they were about. The barrage found plenty of Americans. That, and the German push that followed. The advance failed, the Germans retreated; but the rain didn't. The rain kept coming in sheets, torrents, deluges. Soldiers made jokes about looking for an ark and wondering if this was another forty-day and forty-night rain. There was an episode or two of hail which just added to the miseries. The worst was over after three or so days. The sodden clouds lifted, a bit. A wan sun made a token appearance a couple of days ago. Still, the rain continued, although much diminished. Today was the first day with the sun making a determined effort to warm up and dry things off.
The aid station filled with casualties, first from the barrage, then from exposure as soldiers caught out in the weather with no shelter began to feel the effects. Casualties were patched up and sent back to their units, or on to a hospital. They'd thrown up extra tents to handle everyone. As the station emptied some of the tents came down, but there was more than enough space to accommodate a couple of dozen men without crowding, which suited the commander of that station fine. He liked to keep everyone as far apart as possible and have separate tents for different functions. The way the war was going it wouldn't be long before the station would be moving forward again. Some medical personnel had already been relocated to battalion aid to help with the next move. Only the doctor commander, the medic, and several orderlies remained.
As the two soldiers walked the third in, one gave a quick backstory. "We found this guy. Edge of a field. By himself." Followed by, "Can we leave him with you, sir?" An unnecessary question, really, as he knew that the answer would be yes, but only polite. Mom would expect, no, require him, to be polite, and Mom had been training him a lot longer than the Army. The medic nodded.
"Where do you want him, Doc?"
The medic gestured at the room. "Wherever you think he'll be most comfortable." The two looked at the medic in some surprise.
Well, okay! They finally got a say about something in this man's army.
There were plenty of open cots to pick from. After a little discussion, they chose a spot in a corner as far away from the entry and as private as possible. They knew nothing about this soldier but thought he would want to be away from curious eyes and questioning cot-mates.
"We think he'd like it right over there," and walked the soldier over.
"What can you tell me about him?" the medic asked as he followed behind, shrugging on a clean white coat as he went. "And it's Arndt, Doc Arndt, or Corporal Arndt. Not just "Doc," because we have a real doctor here. I'm not a sir," he reminded the privates.
The soldiers carefully lowered their burden onto the cot. Intent on not dropping him, neither answered immediately. The two eased him down to prone, resting his head on a small, nearly flat pillow. They swung his legs, dirty boots and all, up onto the cot. The man groaned as his legs were moved, but made no further noises and didn't seem to wake. Arndt rolled his eyes at seeing lumps of mud fall off the boots and land on the not-now-clean sheet. Once relieved of the man's weight, and happy they'd managed to get him and themselves back intact, the pair straightened up, emitting sighs of relief.
They turned to the medic. One began to recount, "Nothin' much. Our squad was out on patrol this morning when we came across him. He was by himself. Kind of hidden. We might not have even seen him, except we heard a noise, just a little cough. It was him. But he wasn't awake.
"Nobody around except a couple of other Germans, dead, but they were about, oh, like a hundred yards away or so. Pretty far away, probably nothing to do with him. There'd been a skirmish or two through that area already." He paused thoughtfully, then carried on, "Figured he probably got caught in the barrage or the fighting, and then that rain. So likely out there four or five, maybe six days, all told. Couldn't have done him much good, hurt like he was. He was pretty well done in when we found him."
A pause, then the soldier went on, "We didn't have a doc with us, but we fixed him up as best we could. He came to while we were working on him, but never said anything. Don't think he was with it, though, if you know what I mean. That's about it," the soldier concluded.
The other one took up the tale, "After we fixed him up, our sergeant told us to take him here. He's had a rough time of it." "Reckon now that we've brought him in, it's time for us to get on back," the private continued.
"He has a big gash in his leg, up high. It's pretty messed up in there. Sarge said it looked really bad and he needed to get help quick. That whole leg is messed up. He kept hissing every time he put weight on it. We found a straight branch to try and make a splint just to help out, but I don't know if it did. It's all different colors. Bruised all to hell." With that little observation, the soldier looked over at his partner, who nodded silently. "His side hurts. Good-sized bruises there. Bad ribs. Lots of cuts and scrapes. His shoulder. Rough."
The two soldiers traded off telling the story. "We spelled each other walking him when he was awake. He wore out quick. We couldn't make a big litter, nothing long enough, so we tried making something small. It didn't work very well. His legs dangled off and kept hitting the ground. That hurt. Then we tried carrying him on our backs, like piggy-back. I think carrying him that way was the worst. He moaned a lot like that. Whenever we could, we'd walk him though. We got to so that we'd just walk him between the two of us when he was out. It was faster and I think it was easier on him. We gave up on using that splint thing since we wound up supporting him most of the time anyway.
"Sure glad to come off that last rise; we'd all had enough. One of us was coming on down to get help, but he'd come awake again. It didn't seem all that far. We put him between us and just walked him on in. We went pretty slow. We didn't want to trip. It's pretty steep. I reckon it about finished him off. He's out again."
"That's about it, sir. Oh, I mean Doc Arndt. Sorry, Corporal Arndt." The private confusedly tried to correct himself.
The medic had to smile. "That's okay." He pointed to another white-coated figure across the way. "That's Dr. Zimmermann over there. He's a major, so he gets the sir, and he's a real doctor. He'll be working on your buddy here."
"Oh." Rummaging around in a pack, one of the soldiers pulled out a bloodied and torn field jacket and placed it carefully over the soldier. "His jacket. It's a bit damp yet." A gray tunic. Matched the shirt. "Ah mean, he was wearing it, so we figured it was his. Probably. Maybe. It's confusing. He seemed to be burning up, so we took it off. He's probably cold now. He looks to be shivering." Even to his unpracticed eye, the poor man looked bad. "There's a couple of pieces of paper in there, but they were pretty wet, and wadded up. So Sarge said just leave them. We didn't want to rip them. Sarge figured HQ might want to look at them. Could be valuable. That's all we found. No rifle, no nothing else. No gear. No tags, neither." He wrapped up the story with an apt observation, "He sure looks like he went through some hell there."
The two then stepped back to give the medic some room to look at the subject of that tale of woe. The soldier looked as badly worn as the bloodied, muddy, and torn garments he was wearing.
Having taken in the information, Arndt responded, "K." "Did you give him anything? Water? Food? Did he say anything? His name? His unit?"
"Yup. We gave him water. He drank that, but he didn't seem to want to eat anything. Sarge gave him one of those cracker things, but he just left it go. Almost like he'd gone way past being hungry." A long pause. "It was like he saw us, but didn't. Maybe seeing beyond us or seeing nothing at all. Hard to explain."
"Morphine? Anything like that?" queried Arndt. "And a name? You said no tags, so maybe a name."
"Yes. I mean no. No name, no tags. No morphine. Just some aspirin. For fever. Couldn't hurt. Water every time we stopped.
"Pretty sure he's American," the kid's voice trailed off. "Even though that jacket is German. And the shirt. The boots, too. He just looks American. Anyway, Sarge sent me back with him, because I speak German. Just in case he said something. We tried talking to him in English and in German, told stories, sang songs, even sang "Lili Marlene" in German. He," pointing at his friend, "wanted to learn the real words. So, I taught him." Looking back down at the soldier lying on the cot, "He didn't seem to understand anything. Nothing perked him up." "Interesting though. Every time we'd stop for a rest, if he came to, he'd make to move away, almost like he was trying to escape."
"OK. Thanks," Arndt replied, subtly dismissing them. It wouldn't be the first time they'd had a German get brought in for treatment. German, British, Canadian, American. All the same. Just hurt and sick men. He started to focus in on the man.
The two nodded but didn't move to leave. They wanted to know. "Is he gonna make it, Doc?" They had assumed the role of protectors of this helpless man and were reluctant to just go. "We hate to think we got him all the way here and him so hurt, then not make it."
Arndt, already concentrating on this latest patient, didn't bother to answer for a minute. But he sensed they weren't going to leave with that question hanging in the air.
The medic looked up. Yup, they were still here. "Truthfully, I don't know. We'll do our best," he responded, without thinking. He never knew if someone, anyone, was "going to make it." He looked up at the two crestfallen privates. Oops. Forgot they hoped for something positive, not just truth. Then on an encouraging note, "He's pretty tough from what you told me. You two probably saved his life getting him here. If you're back this way in a couple of days, you can check in and I'll let you know. I'm sure he'd want to thank you if he were awake." They looked happier now. Saving a man's life. Even if he did turn out to be from the other side. That made the trek more than worthwhile.
"Aww. He won't know us from Adam. But that's good to know we gave him a chance. Ah'm sure the sarge'll be glad to hear it. He's the one that insisted we bring him in, even though some of the squad thought he might be a kraut. They wanted to leave him. Sarge said you never do that, leave a man helpless to die. Not fitting, not right." The privates looked to the battered soldier, who looked so small now, lying still on the cot.
"Good luck, buddy," the shorter of the two whispered. The two bent close to the soldier, closing out Arndt. "Just in case you forgot, I'm Gotthilf, and the tall one is Junius. The one that kept making you take those big steps." Both smiled slightly, just as if he could see and hear them. "You'll do fine. You can make it. We'll visit you when you're patched up." "Auf Wiedersehen, Feldwebel. Soldier." With a little wave and brief touch on the man's good shoulder, the pair turned away, slung up their rifles and got back to the business of being soldiers.
To Arndt, Gotthilf said, "when he wakes up, let him know we were glad to help and hope he feels better." He turned away and the two moved towards the entrance. Arndt had quirked up an eyebrow at the name. No wonder the kid's sergeant sent him back with this man, that was a German name if he'd ever heard one. Smart and compassionate of the sergeant, too. If this man did turn out to be a Kraut, that private could have both understood anything he'd said and also calmed him.
"Got it. Gotthilf and Junius. By the way, you can stop by the mess tent and grab a bite and a cup of coffee before you head out," Doc Arndt said. The pair waved their thanks and made a beeline out the door to fulfill that suggestion.